Re-enchanting the World

If art imitates life, what are the current supernatural TV shows imitating?  As I mentioned in passing last week, it’s the poorly articulated but widespread belief that something is wrong with our world.  It reflects the desire for magical skills to cope with these troublesome times, and an unspoken but clear desire for something more.

It reflects a desire to re-enchant the world.

But mention re-enchanting the world to many of the same people who are watching The Walking Dead and Sleepy Hollow and American Horror Story: Coven and you’re likely to be met with shaking heads and rolling eyes.  They may feel the call of something more, but they’re so invested in our hypermaterialistic consumer culture they can’t hear it.

“Magic?  That’s just wishful thinking.”

No, the real wishful thinking is assuming electing the right political party will fix all our problems.  Greens and Libertarians, I’m talking to you too.  After all the garbage the Democrats and Republicans have created  I think it’s time to let someone else have a go at it, but I’m under no illusion a regime change would make things right.

The real wishful thinking is assuming fossil fuels will last indefinitely, or that some high tech vaporware will bring us a Star Trek future.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t invest in alternative energy technologies – some of them have the potential to support a sustainably modest lifestyle.  But “they’ll think of something so buy another Expedition” isn’t a workable plan.  Limits are real and we ignore them at our collective and individual peril.

And the most harmful wishful thinking of all is assuming we need a never-ending supply of more and better stuff to be happy.

These supernatural entertainments are speaking to a wave of emotions and intuitions in our wider society.  How can we respond?

We can be mindlessly amused by Hollywood witchcraft.  We can be depressed because it isn’t real.  Or we can use it as inspiration to do something that is real.

In his book Apocalyptic Witchcraft, Peter Grey says:

Witchcraft is the recourse of the dispossessed, the powerless, the hungry and the abused.  It gives heart and tongue to stones and trees.  It wears the rough skin of beasts.  It turns on a civilisation that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

If you can read this you’re probably not powerless.  But in the political and economic realms, the power you and I and 99% of everyone else can project is nothing compared to power wielded by those in control.  So why are we playing their games?  Why are we playing by the rules they set up to guarantee they win?  Why not play by our own rules – by enchanted rules?

The old saying is true – art imitates life.  But it’s also true that life imitates art… and witchcraft and Druidry are called arts for a reason.  By practicing our arts we create and sustain changes in our lives and in the life of the wider culture.

The gods and goddesses of our ancestors aren’t going to restore the worlds of the ancient Celts and Norse and Greeks – neither are other, better-known gods.  But by working with and for our deities, we bring their values and virtues into our lives, we contribute to their great work, and we become more like them.

Nature is beautiful and life-giving, but Nature is also terrifying and destructive.  Naive views of Nature are at best unhelpful and can be deadly.  But when we respect Nature and revere Nature we remember our connection with the rest of the natural world and we find our place: not at the center and not at the head, but as a critical part of the greater whole.

Harry Potter got one thing right (actually, it got a lot of things right, it just got the technology of magic wrong) – it takes many years of dedicated study and practice to become an accomplished wizard.  It takes many years of dedicated study and practice to become an accomplished musician, cook, athlete or engineer.  Whatever your art, start practicing it now.

Life imitates art.  By practicing our art we change ourselves and we make subtle but real changes in the wider world.  By working enchantments we re-enchant the world.

We can’t take down the mainstream world – it’s too big, too powerful, and too deeply entrenched.  It will eventually crumble under its own weight.  That crumbling that has already begun and it will continue for far longer than any of us will be alive in this world.  The mainstream culture sees that long descent even if it can’t quite understand it, and even if it expects Ichabod Crane to use George Washington’s Bible to keep it from happening.

Personally, I have no interest in being an Old Testament prophet ranting against a dysfunctional society to a culture that wants to keep its head in the sand.  I take no pleasure in the thought that in a thousand years someone will find my writings and say “damn, that guy sure saw what was coming.”  Nor do I fear someone saying “what an idiot!” either then or now.  I’d rather spend my time and energy working with those who hear the call of the gods and of Nature and of magic to re-enchant the world.

Or at least, to re-enchant our little corner of it.

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About John Beckett

I’m a Druid in the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. I’m an ordained priest in the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. I’m the Coordinating Officer of the Denton, Texas Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. This year I’m also serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of CUUPS National. I’m a member of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

I write as a spiritual practice. It helps me organize my thoughts and work through ideas and concepts. It helps me evaluate my beliefs and practices against my core values and against what I know (or at least, what I think I know) to be true. It helps me interpret my experiences (religious and otherwise) in ways that are both meaningful and honest.

  • Denise LeGendre

    A beautifully crafted call to action. Thank you!

  • H Kenneth Porter

    Very John Michael Greer-ish. But hey, I like JMG!

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      That’s a high compliment, Kenneth – thank you. I’m somewhat more optimistic about the future than JMG, but he’s far more right than not.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/ John H Halstead

    Yes! We need a change of consciousness, not a change of management. And we have to start with our own little corner of things.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

      A change of management would be nice, but we’re not likely to get it. If we change enough consciousness, who knows what may happen…


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